Posts Tagged ‘passion week’

Sunday. Rejoice!

I read Matthew 28:1-10

This blessed, blessed day dawns.

When you read the gospel accounts of resurrection morning, it soon becomes clear that there was a great deal of traffic back and forth to the tomb. The women, the disciples.  Confusion, disbelief.

I have particularly enjoyed reading where the women first approach the tomb. Prior to their arrival, an angel “descended from heaven,” sending the soldiers of Rome into a catatonic state.  A very satisfying scene.

The angel not only rolls the stone from the tomb entrance, but sits on it, waiting for the women. (Peter Marshall makes a great point: “The stone was rolled away from the door, not to permit Christ to come out, but to enable the disciples to go in.”)

His words to them are wonderful: “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified.

Think about those words. They will be preached in churches all over the world this morning. Don’t be afraid. Seek Jesus, who was crucified. The cross is empty, the tomb is empty. But, if your heart is empty, He will gladly fill it.

Blessed, blessed day.

And there is the Lord’s command when He met the women as they were hurrying back to Jerusalem: Rejoice!

With overflowing hearts, we will rejoice. Our debt is paid. We are reconciled to God through the precious blood of the risen Christ.

 

Saturday. Waiting.

I read Matthew 27:62-66 and John 12:24-26

I imagine it as a day of unearthly calm.

Between the horror and terror of Friday, and the inexpressible joy of Sunday morning, there is a day. I take the liberty of speculating. The bodies have been removed, the crosses stand empty. Saturday dawns bright and warm.

Jesus’ disciples and followers: in hiding, in shock, and grief-stricken.

Roman soldiers: unsure, and, after the events they witness, not quite so arrogant.

Chief priests and their minions: also unsure, to the point of requesting a military guard at the grave.

Everyone else: needing to get on with Passover, but very, very curious.

There is a stillness, as though nature is holding its breath.

For us, it is a day to contemplate great mystery and great miracle. I think of a quote from Amy Carmichael’s book, If: “If I refuse to be a corn of wheat that falls into the ground and dies (is separated from all in which it lived before), then I know nothing of Calvary love.”

It is a severe little book, but she was on to something. Jesus Himself had made this point. The fact is that Christ calls us to die to our self-ness, and emerge with the imprint of His likeness.

Jesus was broken and spilled out. No half-measures. On this day we might reflect on that fact, and pray for a heart like His.


Friday. We Remember.

I read Matthew 27.

Two years ago. Early April.

We are eagerly awaiting the birth of our first grandchild. Sorrow has rocked our small family recently. The promise of this springtime baby has been a balm to our sore hearts.  Early on Good Friday morning, labor begins in earnest.  Our families wait in the living room of the Birthing Center.

As the morning progresses so do the sounds of travail.  I am standing by the microwave making my husband a cup of coffee when Dana’s voice sounds high and piercing.  It is the sound of being lifted and driven by a hard wave and she rides it with a long, undulating cry.

Time is now marked for us by her pain.

Love.

My mind shifts suddenly to that first Good Friday when the “pangs of death”, as the Psalmist calls them, wrack the Man on the Cross.

That, too, was a birthing.

It was a birthing of man’s redemption through extreme and unrelieved suffering.  In an unfathomable mystery, eternal life is inextricably linked with monstrous death. Life, physical and spiritual, emerges bathed in blood.

And those cries from the cross pound down through the millennia and echo in the pangs of every birthing mother.

Thus the love of God is remembered even in the most elemental places.

Our awe at first sight of our baby girl, so chubby and perfect, is the awe of the ages. In that mystical moment of every birth we wonder, how can this be?  It is a shadow of the instant when a soul, newborn and washed in the blood of Jesus Christ, ponders that same question.

This evening our church fellowship will gather around the bread and the cup and remember. We will remember that our sin beat Him almost to death, and then killed Him. Horrifically. Together we will ponder the unimaginable depths of Christ’s love for us. And we will give thanks (with tears, likely) that Love found us and washed us clean.

With blood.

Thursday. As I Have Loved.

I read the Gospel of John, chapters 13 – 17

These 5 chapters are, in my opinion, among the most beautiful in scripture.

From the moment Jesus enters the Passover room until He hears the approach of the mob in the Garden, love overshadows every word.

As a servant, He kneels and washes their feet and says, You do not know what I am doing now, but you will understand later.

I wonder. Do we understand?

Before Jesus shows His love through suffering and death, He expresses His love in words. They pour from Him in a torrent of affection and tenderness: Dear ones, love each other as I love you. Do not fear. I’m going away, but I will return for you. Love. Obey my commands. Love. I will send the Comforter. I give you my joy. Love. And I have overcome the world.

These words have comforted the Church through the ages. If we let them, they purge resentment and bitterness. They soften hard places, rough places. I speak these words to you that you may have peace.

Jesus prays for Himself and for us.

Within a few hours, He will be kneeling in a garden on the slopes of the Mount of Olives. His agony will be so great that an angel will minister to Him. Regarding this terrible scene, G. Gordon Campbell writes: “He began to enter into the consciousness of His absolute isolation.”

He passes the test. Not my will. Your will alone.

And tonight, on the eve of Calvary, I will worship, and pray that prayer.

Wednesday. Rest.

I read Matthew 11: 28-30

Deep in the redwoods here in Sonoma County is a retreat center called St. Dorothy’s Rest. Over the fireplace in one of the cabins is a quote by the Roman poet, Ovid: Take rest; the rested field yields a bountiful crop.

I think about this.

We never see Jesus rushed or harried. He moves deliberately, purposefully. And throughout His ministry, He sometimes leaves the crowds, even His disciples, for solitary places. When Jesus is weary, He rests and prays.

The thing that now awaits Him must be approached with preparation. He has cleansed the Temple, and poured out His last drop of ministry upon the people. Now He must be replenished.

Here, in the middle of His final week before death, Jesus withdraws to Bethany. No details are provided.

I think it is important to note that He chose the home of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. It is a safe place with dear friends who know Him. There will be meals and companionship, if desired, quiet when needed.

Rest.

Lauren F. Winner writes in her new book, Still: “My Bible is open to the fifth chapter of Luke. The story tells us that Jesus often withdrew to lonely places to pray. What can it mean for a place to be lonely? A place, lonely like Jesus? Lonely like me? Maybe I can make my loneliness into an invitation – to Jesus, that he might withdraw into me and pray.”

I like this thought. And Jesus is facing loneliness on a scale unknown to any human being. Ever.

Today provides an opportunity for us to ponder what is to come. Perhaps we can withdraw for a time today ourselves – and make our aloneness an invitation to Jesus.

Tuesday. Poured Out.

I read Mark 11:20-26 and Matthew 21:23 – chapter 25

I keep a quote on my refrigerator by Oliver Wendell Holmes: Don’t die with the music still in you.

It comes to mind as I stare at a list of all Jesus said and did on this day. It is astonishing.

He returns to Jerusalem, past the now-shriveling fig tree. The disciples ask how? Jesus answers with why. The tree was not cursed because it was barren, but because it was false. Leafy, but fruitless. Prayer without faith is false. Prayer with faith moves mountains.

Matthew gives us 4½ long chapters of Jesus’ teaching. There is a terrible intensity in the parables and the warnings. And in the middle of it all, He observes a widow and her penny. And talks about that, too.

Before the end of this day, the chief priests will withdraw to seriously plan His execution.

And there is His final departure from the Temple.

Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives

But Jesus is not finished. He climbs the slope of the Mount of Olives and delivers a powerful discourse on the destruction of Jerusalem. Then more parables. And the final judgment.

The readings for today are lengthy and, to be truthful, exhausting.

But I will read it all.

I will hear the profound urgency in this great pouring out of His final teachings and prophecies. In His voice is an almost desperate effort to Leave Nothing Unsaid.

I will hear my name in every chapter. Work, Savior, a thorough work in me.

In the next 24 hours, Judas will make his deal with the chief priests.

And when Jesus dies, He dies with nothing left but love.

Monday. The Tree and the Temple.

I read Mark 11:12-19 and Matthew 21:12-14

Monday of  Passion Week begins with a tree.

Today, He returns to the Temple in Jerusalem to take care of unfinished business. Fig trees grow in abundance in this area, and, on the way, He approaches one particularly leafy specimen. This must mean early fruit. But no. Not one fig. Let no fruit grow on you ever again.

Really?

But with Jesus, nothing is ever insignificant.  Tomorrow will reveal the why.

He continues determinedly to the city, through the masses of people.  Three years earlier, He had “cleansed the Temple.” It does not stay cleansed. It remains a one-stop-shopping mall for travelers needing to buy animals for sacrifice.  The noise and smells and traffic of buyers and merchants fill the court.  This time Jesus wields only His righteous anger, overturning tables, and the seats of cheating currency traders.

He is strong and irate, shouting as He drives them away: “My house shall be called a house of prayer. You’ve made it a hangout for thieves!”

And finally, there in the devastation, there is room for the real work of that once-holy place. The blind and the crippled approach Him without fear. Come, He motions. I will heal you. And Jesus performs acts of mercy in place of the sacrilege.

I have never thought of this scene in quite this way before. My mind sifts through what I’ve read. Righteous indignation. Reverence. Compassion. And that crown jewel of Christian discipline – prayer. Jesus draws attention to them all on this day, as both Judge and Savior. The things so obviously important to Christ – are they important to me?

Hate, I once read, is not the opposite of love. Apathy is.

Jesus returns to Bethany as Monday draws to a close.

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